January 21, 2006

The Physicists Took the Easy Problem

Alan H. Guth

The reader may well be surprised that scientists dare to study processes that took place so early in the history of the universe. On the basis of present observations, in a universe that is some 10 to 20 billion years old, cosmologists are claiming that they can extrapolate backward in time to learn the conditions one second after the beginning! If cosmologists are so smart, you might ask, why can they predict the weather? The answer, I would argue, is not that cosmologists are so smart, but that the earlier universe is much simpler than the weather!
--Alan H. Guth, on Condensation of the Primordial Soup, in The Inflationary Universe, p. 89

I used to be fond of amusing my friends and colleagues who were trained as physicists by asserting that they were able to give the appearance of being more serious scientists than computer scientists because they'd grabbed the easy problem first. Not only that, they've got a worked example in front of them to examine. And they had a head start. I was amused yesterday to find this passage from Guth that lent evidence to this cherished, long-held suspicionů

Stefan Lauterer weighs in with some thoughts on the connection between this and Austrian politics here.
Posted by foote at January 21, 2006 10:44 AM